By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Originally published in the October 2017 issue of Sensi magazine)
The harbingers of autumn fill the chill air. It’s that special season of sweaters, colorful leaves, football, early sunsets and a scary infestation of horrific pumpkin spice products.
Will you be stocking up on Peanut Butter & Co. Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter, Revel Stoke Pumpkin Spiced Flavored Canadian Whisky, Hostess Pumpkin Spice Twinkies and Extra Pumpkin Spice Sugarfree Gum?
The word “pumpkin” is everywhere this season but 99 percent of these items contain virtually no pumpkin including the gateway beverage for the whole trend, Starbucks Coffee Pumpkin Spice Latte. It seems there is a lot of fake news out there about pumpkins so we are providing this handy primer:
- Don’t buy a jack-o-lantern if you want to bake a pumpkin pie. The big carve-able ones are tasteless and don’t have a lot of meat. Look instead for smaller, rounder ones labelled “pie pumpkins” that produce sweet, smooth puree that’s great for baking. Long ago hard jack-o-lantern-type gourds were used as a kind of pan for baking pies and other foods.
- Most of the pumpkin pies everybody loves on Thanksgiving – I’m partial to the Costco version – are really filled with Dickinson squash, a relative of butternut squash. “Squash Spice Latte” sounds a little less enticing. Colorado produces tons of great winters quashes including the exceptional kabocha squash which are much tastier than the canned stuff.
- All pumpkin spice products are not alike. I don’t like to paint tem all with the same hold-my-nose brush because there are some fine local examples available, especially from the breweries. Topnotch local pumpkin ales range from lightly spiced Upslope Pumpkin Ale to heavy duty Avery Rumpkin (aged in rum barrels) and New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin Ale made with Saigon cinnamon and habaneros.
- There are some pumpkin spice foods that I actually crave. Creamy Colorado-made Noosa Pumpkin Yogurt tastes like pumpkin pie with ice cream and Boulder’s Farmer’s Porch Heirloom Pumpkin Seeds offers organic hulled pumpkin seeds that are nutty, creamy and spiced three ways: Turmeric Lime, Cacao Cinnamon and Ghost Pepper.
- Pumpkin spice does not grow on trees. You can buy it pre-mixed but it tastes best when you make it yourself from fresh spices. Test it out by creating a small batch using bulk spices: 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. I use even less cloves that that because it tends to overpower every other flavor. I add a ground allspice and vanilla. Cardamom also adds a nice floral note. It is notable that many of these same spices are also found in chai spiced tea.
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. He admits to drinking one Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte in his life. He objects to its ingredients including sugar, annatto, salt, potassium sorbate, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan and sulfiting agents.
Denver-area Pumpkin Patches and Fall Festivals
There are a multitude of locations to pick up a pumpkin along the Front Range. The following destinations provide a full family fall experience along with those carve-able jack-o-lanterns.
Tagawa Gardens Nursery
7711 S. Parker Road, Centennial, tagawagardens.com
On the first three weekends of October Tagawa hosts a long-running fall festival that includes live music, kids’ grape-stomping, chile-roasting, pony rides plus pumpkins for carving.
Rock Creek Farm
2005 S. 112th St. (near US-287), Broomfield, rockcreekfarm.com
This is a big and popular family destination with about 100 acres of pumpkin fields to pick from with miles of corn mazes and a farm animal area. Open through Oct. 31
Denver Botanic Gardens Pumpkin Festival
8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton, botanicgardens.org
From Oct. 13 to 15 the Denver Botanic gardens’ pretty Chatfield Farms location is the site for colorful gathering featuring live music, artisans, food trucks, beer and wine, horse-drawn hayrides, face painting and giant Jenga games.
Colorado Pumpkin Patch
4600 Highway 86, Castle Rock, coloradopumpkinpatch.net
The wide range of activities through Oct. 29 include outdoor large checkers, a straw slide, a maze, a straw bale pyramid for climbing, a petting zoo (including alpacas), pony and hay rides and, of course, lots of pumpkins. The big fun for adults includes catapulting large gourds at targets. Open through Oct. 29